MANILA, Philippines – This summer, Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero have a chance to do for the Gilas Cadets what they were unable to do as high school players for La Salle Greenhills – and that is to win a championship.
The two athletic wings played together for just one season for LSGH – in the NCAA Season 89 juniors basketball tournament. That year, Rivero's older brother, Prince, earned MVP honors and was joined by Paras in the Mythical Five. However, they were beaten by the powerhouse San Beda Red Cubs in the finals.
Paras left for the United States at the end of that season, and spent five years there as he tried to break into the US NCAA. In March, Paras announced that he was turning professional, leaving California State University, Northridge – his third college – after the coach who recruited him, Reggie Theus, was fired.
But before signing any professional contract, Paras will first play for the Gilas Cadets in the FilOil Flying V Premier Cup, where he will team up with Rivero as well as a slew of other players who are included in Chot Reyes' "23 for 23" pool.
"I'm going to bring energy (to the Gilas Cadets team)," Paras said Monday in a press conference. "That's what I bring to the team."
Paras expects the Gilas Cadets to play a fast-paced, run-and-gun game as they look to take advantage of their youth in the tournament that will pit them against some of the best collegiate teams in the country. He also knows that he will likely be shifted to a "big man" role with the Cadets, after playing as a wing during his time in the US.
"But if I get the ball," he said, "I can bring it down and run."
More than anything, Paras is excited for the chance to once again team up with Rivero. They barely got the time to play together in the NCAA, but this time around, they are both established stars who are expected to lead the Cadets.
And the one thing that Paras and Rivero are both determined to do is to lead their group to the top.
"I see my teammates as brothers," said Paras. "I can't wait to practice with them, build a bond, and hopefully, win the Flying V (tournament)."
"I'm so excited, I'm really looking forward to this," said Rivero, for his part.
Like Paras, Rivero believes that they have a good chance of winning the preseason event.
"Hindi namin nakuha 'yung championship na gusto namin before," said Rivero, who also teamed up with Paras in the 2015 FIBA 3x3 Under-18 Championships. "Pero siguro ngayon, mas malaki 'yung chance kasi we're playing for the Cadets and 'yung first league namin is FilOil."
"We're looking forward to that talaga," he added.
Paras and Rivero technically play the same position, but with Paras expected to play more as a big, Rivero believes that their off-court friendship will translate into a successful on-court partnership.
"Sobrang laking factor talaga ni Kobe sa team," he said. "Sa akin, I'll try to do my best lang to help the team as well kasi we both want the same naman for the team, which is 'yung championship."
The Gilas Cadets open their FilOil campaign on Saturday against defending UAAP champion Ateneo de Manila University.
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